Wine


We took time out over the Memorial Day holiday weekend to head out into the Texas Hill Country to enjoy some wine tasting at a couple of really great Texas wineries.

‘Wine Country’ in this part of the world often implies just one stretch of highway 290 between Johnson City and Fredericksburg, TX. (About an hour+ west of Austin.) And indeed these two wineries were 10 minutes apart on that very stretch of road around Stonewall. That so many wineries have popped up in that area is no surprise. Fredericksburg is very popular and that stretch of road is highly trafficked. But in reality, while there are grapes growing in the area and on the estates, much if not most of the fruit in Texas wine comes from the ‘high plains’ – up near Lubbock. Soil and temp conditions are just better up there. But… nobody goes up there if they can avoid it so consequently the wine biz has set up shop in central TX. They do grow fruit in the hill country though and have for ages … but most of it used to be peaches. There are still peaches of course but now there’s a lot more vines and grapes.

This visit out that way was mainly to catch a [relative] newcomer to the area. Kuhlman Cellars has only been there a couple of years, and yet judging by the quality of the wine, you’d never know that. I was throughly impressed with the experience.

You need a reservation for a tasting at Kulhman and if same-day, you can call them. In this case though I made the reservation online the day before. That was handy. I got the “Signature Food and Wine Pairing”. It’s the way to go I think. It was a few bucks more but the food pairings were a nice addition and enhanced the experience.

The tasting was a sit-down event and just about right on time per the reservation. A sit-down tasting / pairing isn’t something I see often at hill country wineries but I really liked it. I snapped a shot of the food pairings which you can see here in this post.

We were ably guided through our tasting by Jeremy Wilson. Follow the link to his blog postings at the Kuhlman Cellars blog. By his description, his job is essentially anything that needs to get done. From planting in the vineyard to driving the forklift – but he really likes doing the tastings and explaining everything. He’s very knowledgable about the regional wines.

We were fortunate enough to also briefly meet and say hello to the winemaker Bénédicte Rhyne. She’s originally from France. Her mom was visiting from France and was there that afternoon for a tasting, which was kinda cute. Follow the link for a bio.

There were 5 wines tasted and I enjoyed each. The Sauvignon Blanc was a surprise and very nice. “Green apple, pear and gooseberry.. crisp acidity”. You’d never guess the fruit came from Ft Stockton way out in west TX.

The reds in general were lovely but the 2014 Barranca was a standout. Tasting notes: “violets, sweet baking spice, cedar cigar box and cherry, .., dark chocolate, creme fraiche and intense mineralogy”. (I’m always amazed at how wine writers come up with these descriptions.) Anyway, it was 31% Mourvedre, 30% Tempranillo, 24% Malbec and 15% Sangiovese .. and it was yummy. Pricey at $36/bottle but as things go this is pretty much a specialty item and nicely done at that so you’ll pay a little more.

The photo at the bottom of the post of the vines and grapes is, if my notes are correct, Marsanne. You can read all about this at the winery’s own blog post here.

With plenty of time left of the afternoon we decided to also take in Hilmy Cellars 10 min down the road. I had been there only once and was impressed with their wines. So, off we went.

You can see another couple photos here from Hilmy. The first is one is of their 2015 Persephone. A blend of 2/3 Viognier and 1/3 Chenin Blanc. The white wines in general at Hilmy were excellent. My fav was their 2015 100% Viognier. A bit more floral than the other two white but with enough acid not to make it cloying.

The reds were equally enjoyable but the 100% Sangiovese was my fav and is it then any surprise that we got one of those with a plan to stop by Sorellina pizza on the way back to Austin for a couple of pies? Great combo! (Sorellina is just on the Austin side of the bridge over the Pedernales river and well worth the drive out west on hwy 71 if you wanna take the time.)

The guy in the photo at the bottom is Michael at Hilmy. Didn’t catch his last name. He’s only been in the area for 3 months. He moved from California. He was very knowledgable about the wines though and as you can see, he clearly enjoys what he’s doing.

Vines and Grapes at Kuhlman Cellars, Stonewall, Texas

The Willamette Valley came to Austin – at least for one night. I’m a big fan of Oregon wines and have written here before about visits up there. So I was excited to see an event called “Pinot in the City” come up right here in Austin that showcased nothing but Oregon wines from the Willamette valley area.

First and foremost I appreciated that the organizers somehow managed to make the winery to taster ratio a very good one so that we weren’t all just packed in there like sardines and making it difficult to get a tasting. In fact, it was a pleasure to just take our time, have a bit of food and then go check out the next winery that looked interesting.

In the end, I made note of my two favorites. One white and one red. Perhaps not surprisingly these came from two wineries I have visited in the past. And while these I noted as my favorites, there was nothing that I didn’t like.

The first of these was the Pinot Blanc from Brooks. When I saw they had a white I at first assumed it’d be a Riesling. They make excellent Riesling! But instead it was this 2014 Pinot Blanc. Lemon lime with a round and reasonably full body. I’d love to find some more of this. I don’t see this particular year available on the Brooks website but they have the 2015 there. Might have to give that one a try.

My favorite Pinot Noir of the night, by a nose – because there were so many good ones – was the 2013 Lange Pinot Noir Reserve. If you click through to their website you’ll find tasting notes there which who am I to argue with:

“Bright and lively, the palate shows an array of red berry fruit layered with sweet herbs and hints of rich earth.”

Lange is a lovely little winery to visit I might add. I have been there at least a couple times and hope to visit again one day.

While I was visiting Laguardia, my host at the casa rural I was staying suggested I give the Baigorri winery a try. It wasn’t too far a drive and even though it was a weekday they did a special tasting menu following the tour – if you wanted to go for the whole package. Sounded like a great way to spend a good chunk of the day so she set it up for me.

Click through to the winery link above and you’ll see the architecture of the winery is unique. From the road it looks like just an empty glass building that you can see through. As you get in though you realize it’s built on a hillside and what’s visible from the road is just the glass top floor. The winery and offices and everything else is down below and toward the back.

This architecture has a purpose. The production of the wine at Baigorri is done entirely via gravity. They don’t pump the juice around from one container to the next. The multistory nature of the building allows everything to flow by gravity. If I tried to explain why it makes a difference I probably wouldn’t do it justice. But this website does a decent job of explaining.

The tour was just two of us. And the other person spoke Spanish. The tour guide (Rocio) did her best with the two of us, splitting between Spanish first and then following that with English. There was a lot more Spanish than English but I got a good intro to the place and their wines.

At the very back of the winery, past all the aging barrels, you emerge into a restaurant with nice views of the vineyards beyond. The countryside you see in the photo at the top of this post. That’s where the tour ended and where I enjoyed a fantastic tasting menu paired with the Baigorri wines. I snapped a photo of the tasting menu which you see posted here. I didn’t catch the name of the server but she was very helpful and nice. The wine and the food were excellent!

I have no idea what a visit here is like on the weekend but visiting mid week allowed for some very personal service. As I noted, only two of us on the tour. And only two tables of us at with the tasting menu. Interestingly the other table was English speaking and had their own personal English speaking tour guide. Something tells me they planned to buy a lot more than I did.

Here it is October and I’m still trying to catch up on posts of my summer visit to Spain. It’s raining like crazy here in central Texas this weekend so it provides a good opportunity to spend a little time jotting notes here.

After San Sebastián, my next stop was back inland. I had targeted wine country and Laguardia is in the heart of that. Although strictly speaking it’s in the Basque Country, Laguardia is associated with the Rioja DOC for wines. If you’ve had wine from Spain, good chance you’ve had one from somewhere in the Rioja.

I hadn’t specifically targeted Laguardia but I’m glad that’s where I landed. I had not done that much research. I knew I was looking for some place interesting to stay in the Rioja and I simply used the map features of TripAdvisor to iterate through places that looked interesting (and reviewed well). I found a little ‘casa rural‘ called Erletxe. Your guess is as good as mine on how to pronounce that Basque name though I’m sure I was told on arrival. I encourage you to click through to the website. Maria there was such a great hostess. Very friendly and more than that, very helpful in suggesting things to see and wineries to taste in town and in the area. The room was clean and comfortable and breakfasts were great. It was like staying with a family member.

Laguardia itself is a very small walled town. You can [leisurely] walk most of it in a few hours or less. While there are some service vehicles that occasionally ply the tiny streets it’s otherwise entirely pedestrian – and thus a quiet place to stroll the streets. At the north end of the town is a park that rings a good chunk of that portion of town just outside the walls. See photo below. A quiet place just to sit and look out on the surrounding vineyards.

There are a few interesting winery tours and tastings in the town. I visit a couple of note. What you quickly understand from these tours is that beneath the buildings and walkable streets of the town it is literally honeycombed with wine cellars. A map of the cellars shows they are under pretty much all of the buildings. Moisture and temperature conditions are uniform and have made for great production and storage over the centuries.

The first I visited was Bodegas Casa Primicia. The tour is excellent as were the wines. The facility has seemingly been only recently renovated and after the tour of the cellar area the upstairs tasting area is thoroughly modern and offers great views of the countryside. As you can see from the photo here, I enjoyed the Tempranillo here. Tempranillo is one of the principal grapes from the region.

Also a great tour though not quite as modern a facility was Bodega El Fabuslista. You’ll see from the photo here of our tour/tasting guide that the final tasting was done down in the cellar. The light down there was very interesting and I liked how the photo of our guide turned out. Wines here were good too.

As yet a future post will reveal, I was back through Laguardia again after picking up a bike tour. I enjoyed that 2nd visit too and really hope I get the opportunity to visit again.

I was returning to Austin from Las Vegas and a work event, and happy to be home. Only one day of what was otherwise a few days conference.

Meanwhile, I had an errand to run upon arrival in the south end of Austin later but that meant I had time on my hands for a just bit – and for a change, my flight was on time – and all I’d had earlier in the day was some breakfast around 7 in Las Vegas. So… I was also hungry. Two hour time change and all.

It’s been a [very long] while since I’ve made my way to Winebelly on Oltorf just off south 1st street but for someone returning from the airport it wasn’t far off the beaten path and I’ve been meaning to try the place again. I pulled in around 5 and not surprisingly I had my choice of places to sit. It was a welcome respite from dealing with rush hour.

A few things:

First, the choices by the glass at Winebelly are excellent. I’ll be back to try again. I found Prieto Pricudo by the glass and it’s surprising I found it at all in my opinion. It was a ‘wine find’ during my summer visit to northern Spain this year and I’d never heard of it before that.

Snacks at that hour included Truffle Fries… come on… gotta have some of those fries. And I did.

The other pics here are of Ryan Fulmer, General Manager (based only on my reading) about Winebelly.

In the course of chatting, Ryan recounted a harrowing story of his son in the military recently in Afghanistan. While I won’t elaborate based on the personal accounting, it was a riveting story and no doubt he’s [still] breathing a sigh of relief that fate worked in his favor.

In a perfect world I would have written my notes on my recent visit to Spain while I was visiting. But as I’ve discovered on previous trips, that can be difficult. You want to explore the place instead of sit at the keyboard. So now, a couple months later, I’m taking a bit of time to jot down some memories. It would have been sooner, but it’s a busy time of year at work. (I’ve back dated these posts to the time when they actually happened.)

So where do I start? Madrid, that’s where. But I wasn’t there for long. I wanted to check out some of the wine regions of Spain. From Austin I flew to Madrid but immediately got a car at the airport and had made plans to head north. So with the Garmin affixed to the windshield, I headed to the northern parts of Spain and the Ribera del Duero, San Sebastian and La Rioja.

But that’s a LONG way to drive after a such a long flight and I knew I’d be tired. Flights to Europe often arrive in the morning and this was no exception but trying to get some solid shuteye in ‘economy’ class rarely pans out very well for me. So I had made plans to find a place to stay along the way.

I’m a planner and I rarely leave it to chance where I’ll be staying. So I had done some searching earlier in the year on TripAdvisor and happened across what turned out to be a great little place to stay in the little town of La Vid, Spain.

As a fan of good wine, what else could be better as a first stop than a little inn that’s also a winery with a great little restaurant? The place is called El Lagar de Isilla, and it was a great little waypoint to recharge after the long trip.

Aside from El Lagar de Isilla, there isn’t much going on in La Vid. Across from the inn/bodega is the monastery Santa María de La Vid that is pretty interesting to walk around but otherwise obviously pretty quiet.

The photo included below is inside the winery part of the inn. There’s a little wine shop and the photo is of the larger tasting room. At the time I was there, I was the only one doing a wine tasting and they held it in the shop.

El Lagar de Isilla is in the heart of Ribera del Duero and their wines were excellent. I’d come a long way, so I got their “best” flight. Favorite for me was their Gran Reserva.

Dinner and then later the next morning, breakfast, at the hotel were both great. The place is only a couple years old and everything still looked pretty new. If you’re passing through, check the place out.

Work-related travel recently took me to Seattle and I always enjoy visiting Seattle – at least downtown Seattle. I don’t know much about the rest of the city. Our office there is downtown and there’s plenty to do within walking distance. So on this occasion I went up a couple days early.

As has become somewhat typical of a weekend visit such as this one I didn’t have much of an agenda planned in advance. Like the recent trip to San Francisco, I know Seattle is a very walkable city and so with camera in tow, I mainly planned to just choose a direction and see what I found.

Of course I also like to find interesting restaurants so I did actually google around ahead of time and read a few reviews and arrange some places I planned to seek out. Read on for more about them in the ‘Food & Wine’ section below.

So where to stay … I didn’t want to stay at the same place I planned to be at for the work-related visit. I wanted to try some place new. In the past I’ve had good luck visiting Seattle on a weekend using Priceline and this was no exception. I picked ‘downtown’ and rolled the dice. Ended up finding The Edgewater.

The Edgewater

I flew in Friday evening and cabbed it into the city. The cabbie gave the Edgewater high praise — particularly the restaurant — but we’ll see.

The bar/restaurant at the hotel is called Six Seven and on a Friday evening the place was hopping. So often a hotel bar is a depressing and boring thing that one day had high hopes but ends up being some place a few people sit around and watch the ball game. Six Seven was packed and there was a band playing. Oh, and they had a good wine list and you could still order some great snacks from the restaurant. I had some lettuce wraps – and they were good.

I got a better look at the rest of the hotel the next day. I didn’t hang around long but the lobby is inviting. The place is very lodge-like. You can sit by a big fireplace and since you’re literally right on the water you can watch the ferry boats and ships slowly sail by.

Breakfast at the restaurant there was good – though pricey at $20 for eggs, taters, bacon and coffee. It would have been even better had the weather been nicer. While the view of Puget Sound is good even when the windows aren’t open, they clearly all opened to a set of, in this case unoccupied, tables. Maybe someday when the weather is great I’ll make a return visit.

Wandering About

Saturday morning there was a steady rain coming down but I had brought clothes and rain jacket for the occasion so no worries. I struck out up Alaskan Way with the idea to ride the ferry boat over to Bainbridge Island. No particular destination in mind over there. In some ways it was just an excuse to get out on the water and see things from a different point of view.

On a Saturday morning the ferry leaves fairly often so it didn’t take long before the next one came along. Round trip: $8 for a pedestrian.

It takes about 35 minutes to make the trip over. The little town on the other side is very walkable and if you like to window shop for an hour or two it’s an interesting visit. I grabbed a sandwich mid day at the Hitchcock Deli and then later after walking around some more and a leisurely coffee at Pegasus Coffee I headed back to the ferry. But first, along the way I found Classic Cycle. It’s a very cool bike shop that has a lot of vintage bikes hanging on the wall. You can see one of them in the photos I’ve posted here. That bike is said to have gone 80mph.

The ferry ride back was uneventful. In fact, I napped most of it. Surprising considering I’d loaded up on coffee before making the return trip.

Most of the rest of Saturday afternoon was spent poking around the Pike Place Market. The place is always buzzing with people and interesting sights. That day was no exception. A heavy rain for part of the afternoon meant it was even more jammed. The b&w photo posted here of the couple with the dog was one I snapped when miraculously the throng of people parted and they were there alone. They were just waiting out the rain it seemed.

Skipping to Sunday, I stuck close to the downtown area. I walked out to Seattle Center. It’s not hard to find. Just locate the Space Needle and it’s all of the area and buildings around and near the base of the needle. The primary draw for me was a visit to the Chihuly Garden and Glass. It’s an amazing exhibit of glasswork done by Dale Chihuly. You can see a photo of one of the room sized pieces posted here. Even at the $20 ticket price, if you enjoy art glass it’s worth a visit.

Food & Wine & Coffee

Half the fun of visiting a city like Seattle is to find some cool places to eat and drink. Here are some I visited and liked:

Matt’s In The Market


Matt’s In The Market is a place I’ve visited once but it was many years ago. Since then I’ve tried to drop in on other visits but it’s a small and very popular place so my advice is to get a reservation. Even though I was traveling solo I got one this time and I’m glad I did. I ended up with a table with a great location that overlooked the Market. I snagged the photo posted here at right from the window by my table. Despite the touristy location the food is excellent. I had a salad to start but for the main had the ‘bacon wrapped rabbit’. Very tasty. It came with spiced red cabbage, lentils, carrots, parsnips, mustard seed, and some “rabbit jus”. And to enjoy with, they had a favorite Oregon Pinot Noir by the class from Stoller.

Lark

As someone doing the town on foot, at 10th Ave, Lark is a bit of a hike. But not that bad. First, I have to say I enjoyed the wine menu. As a fan of Italian wines and a recent visit, I was happy to find selections from Piedmont. I started with a glass of Roero Arneis. Then moved on to Langhe Nebbiolo. Meanwhile, they also have some great cheese selections here. I stuck with the Italian choices. A Tuscan Pecorino and a 2nd from Piedmont.

Purple Cafe and Wine Bar

While out on Bainbridge Island, I wandered the shops and one was a wine shop. I didn’t buy anything but I chatted up the guy working there and I asked him what wine bar should I visit in Seattle. His immediate reply was Purple. So, I pulled in for a visit. The place is huge. Gymnasium sized, with a circular tower of a wine rack in the middle of it. The draw of this place in my opinion were the wines by the glass. Huge selection. And wine flights too. I had an Italian White wine flight, followed by their “Tour de France” selection of 3 great French reds. The photo posted above of the solo glass of wine was taken at Purple.

Moore Coffeeshop

Last but not least, what visit to Seattle would be complete without some great coffee. I’ve tried many places there but I still really love the coffee at Moore’s Coffeeshop. This is coffee artistry. Both in taste and in the latte art they manage to pour into your cup. The place is really tiny but they also have some seating these days so it’s not just a ‘to-go’ place. I parked there for a bit and snagged this photo of the wall and my fellow patrons.

I’ve heard that the Santa Barbara area was good for both cycling and interesting wineries so with a very slight lull in the work schedule and very little planning in advance I thought I’d take Southwest Airlines up on their ‘wanna get away?’ slogan and take a little break from Austin.

I make a point to note Southwest Airlines because when I travel with my two bike cases that measure at the limit of what’s considered ‘checkable’ luggage they are one of the few airlines that include 2 checked bags with the fare. With fares about the same in any case, it’s been convenient in the past so I booked ’em for a direct flight to LAX.

As you can see in the photo at right. Santa Barbara also has some interesting people wandering about. This photo was captured at the weekly farmers market in the heart of Santa Barbara. I think it says something about the casual outdoors culture of the city.

My ultimate destination wasn’t actually Santa Barbara, but rather Solvang or more generally the Santa Ynez valley. But with a long flight plus a pretty good car drive up there I opt’ed to spend at least one afternoon and evening bumming around Santa Barbara.

I found a little motel (they call it an Inn but seems like a motel) just a block from the beach called the Harbor House Inn. TripAdvisor led me there – as it often does to the destinations I find – and it was a really great find. Nice room. Clean. Even a little kitchenette. It’s the sort of place you could spend more than the one night I was planning.

It was convenient to everything I was likely to find interesting for one day stay. And by convenient I mean it was easy to walk to beach, to the ‘funk zone’ (as they call it in Santa Barbara) nearby for restaurants and winery tasting rooms and even close to the main downtown State Street with all its shops and things – including that farmers market I mentioned.

It didn’t take me long to venture out and about and take in some of the pier, beach area and one of the tasting rooms. I’d done at least a little online browsing and had concluded I wanted to check out a place called The Lark for dinner. Pali wines was a block or so down and given that the Lark didn’t open till 5 (which was 7pm my time) I pulled in. They had a nice selection of wines and an inviting little space and while the wines were good I wasn’t up for lugging any around or signing up for delivery/club membership.

The Lark turned out to be a fantastic restaurant. I like finding a place like this one – especially when traveling solo – where you can find a spot at the bar and they serve the full dinner menu at the bar. The bar staff was really friendly and helpful. And seated like this inevitably you strike up a conversation with others at the bar. The couple next to me was from Dallas.

Food at The Lark was great. I started with their appetizer of fried brussel sprouts. Nice flavors. Who’d a thought brussel sprouts would ever become so popular? but, it’s a staple of this and many other places I’ve been in the last few years.

The main dish was really, really good. It was a braised lamb served with house made pappardelle. Can’t tell you at this point what all was in the sauce but there was also acorn squash in the mix and it worked really well. It was something really different and delicious.

Fast forward to the next morning… I was up early. That 2 hour timezone change always has me up with the birds when I visit the West coast. It was good though because it would be time I could reassemble my bike. That always takes at least an hour and more like two.

On my walk around town the evening before I’d noticed a nearby bike shop. A little online snooping suggested it was highly regarded so I planned to take the bike over there after assembling so I could get it checked out. It was a place called Hazard’s Cyclesport. Really nice bike shop and some friendly folks. They also let me change into bike gear in the shop dressing room. Handy. From there I took the bike out for a spin up and down the coast and around town a bit.

Santa Barbara Cycling

I didn’t spend too much time riding though. I still needed to make the trip up to Solvang. So I packed up and headed north.

In my last post, I mentioned visiting the VinoRama. It reminded me a lot of some of my recent visits to regional enotecha in Piedmont. In this case, the VinoRama represented many wines from the Lavaux region.

If you’re just inclined to try wines of the region or are headed to Lausanne or Montreux it’s pretty easy to get to the VinoRama, you don’t even need a car. You can take the train from Geneva (or whereever) to Lausanne and then from there, grab a more regional train to Rivaz. From the train station there, it’s walkable.

There were hundreds of regional wines on display and available for purchase at the VinoRama, which I must say is a pretty great name for a wine showcase. You can also taste a set of wines as well. There are several choices on the tastings. I chose an option that included some bread and snacks with it. The tasting I got included 3 whites (Chasselas) and I think 3 reds as well. Though the guy helping me, Louis, may have sensed I was interested in something else and he brought out the Z Collection you see here. It was my favorite and this was the only one I bought. I wish I could tell you what is in it but my notes are sketchy and I couldn’t find too much of a description of it at the web site I dug up for it.

The VinoRama is set back into the hillside next to a pretty little waterfall. Once you get in, it’s really dark. I guess they’re going for a kind of ‘cave’ like setting. In addition to the wines, there is also a little movie theater that does a show about growing wine in the area. It’s done in a different language depending on what you want to see. I think they do it by request.

My tasting started with a set of 3 of Chasselas wines. I don’t know much about Chasselas wines. In fact, this recent visit to Switzerland may have been the first time I can recall them. Who knows, years ago I was in Switzerland and maybe had some, I don’t remember. These three were good but my memory is that the 2nd one in the photo here was more to my liking. The wines are definitely minearly but more round in texture. I’d try them again if I can find them back home.

If you like hiking, and you like wine, you’d be hard pressed not to like to spend a little time trekking through Lavaux in Switzerland.

I can’t quite recall how I heard about this area but considering I was going to be in Geneva over a couple weekends, I put it on my agenda once I read about it. It’s a beautiful area of terraced vineyards above Lake Geneva.

First of all I had no idea that Switzerland even did wines (though I should have probably figured that it did) and second of all that they would do something else besides white wines in this region. Live and learn. As to whites, they do a lot of Chasselas but they also do a fair bit of Gamay and Pinot Noir.

I chose to stay in the little town of Grandvaux and it turned out to be a fine base. Directly from my stay I could connect up with a walking route that took me through the vineyards. While it may look like it’s just a walk in the park it’s not quite as trivial to go up and down some of the slopes as it might look from the photo here. For the most part you can easily follow routes that are paved like a city hiking trail but there are some places you go up and down where the grade (according to the signs) is upwards of 25%. Trust me, you will use all the muscles in your legs as you go up and down. But the views are spectacular, you can stop in little towns along the way and just do as much as you want.

I’d been given a tip to make my way to Vevey. As you can see in the map below that I got from the B&B owner, Grandvaux is on the far left of the map and Vevey is on the far right. A pretty good hike. As it turns out, Saturdays are market days in Vevey and they have a wine tasting done at the market during the summer at least. I was told that it showcased a different producer each week. So, that’s where I headed.

Now turns out that last section to Vevey is not quite as nicely hikable, and because the wine tasting ends on the dot at 1pm I dropped down the hill to take a local train over to Vevey. I got to Vevey with time to spare and really enjoyed the tasting of a couple of wine from nearby Yvorne. They had both a Chasselas and a Pinot Noir. Both were good.

With the market going on at the same time, I was able to find some tasty pizza to have with my little bit of white and red wine. Hit the spot after the walk over.

Later in the afternoon, I started backtracking and ended up at the “Vinorama”. See the other red highlighted box in the map. More on the Vinorama in another post.

This would be the last day there’d be anything like a long option for riding. Typically Backroads gives people a few options and today was no exception and you could opt for a pretty short ride to a wine tour/tasting and picnic lunch (and then shuttle back in a van) or you could bolt on an extra loop in the morning to make it close to 30 miles before hitting the tour/tasting and lunch, and then if you felt like more riding, you could bike back to the hotel too. I took all the options and got in a pretty good ride with plenty of time left to just hang out at the pool for a while before a fantastic last dinner with everyone.

We lucked out again with the weather. At the end of the 4th day, we once again got just a little bit of rain. But by morning it was beautiful again and maybe even just a little chilly. The ride out to the winery/lunch + bolted on loop was a roller. If you look at the Garmin details by clicking thru the map, you can see we had plenty of ups and downs. After those first ~30 miles, I was ready for that picnic lunch despite having the usual bountiful breakfast options (which almost always included mounds of some local cheeses and meats). I shouldn’t have been hungry but the hills were a workout.

The wine tour and tastings at Marchesi Alfieri were pretty good. We did some other tastings during the bike tour but this was the only winery visit we made. After the winery tour they had us tasting three of their wines. 1st was a Barbara D’Asti (La Tota), the 2nd was their Barbara D’Asti Superiore (AlfierA) and the 3rd was a Nebbiolo from the Monferrato region (the Costa Quaglia).

The 1st Barbara was an easy drinking and fruity wine. Lots of dark fruit but not much structure to it. The Barbara Superiore really stepped it up a notch and according to the woman that helped us with the tour and tasting, it was their best wine. Lots more going on. Dark fruit but also notes of oak and spice and some tannins to give it a nice structure though not overly so. My fav of the three. The Nebbiolo was just so so. Too thin and light for my taste.

By the time we finished the tour/tasting and a picnic lunch we were well into the afternoon. These kind of plush events are nice but they do make it a little hard to get back on the bike.

The afternoon option for riding back to the hotel included a long, steep 5K+ climb. It had warmed up at that point and so it was long and winding enough to having me wondering “ok, when’s this uphill going to end?”. But, I was back by 4’ish and out to lounge by the pool for a bit. We had plenty of time till dinner (meeting at 7:30’ish).

The restaurant at the hotel was said to be a Michelin rated though I couldn’t find evidence of that online nor in evidence at the restaurant. But in any case, it was really quite good and I liked the old wine cellar setting. The wine list was a thick as the phone book of a sizable town. They started us with some snacks and then moved to (at least for me) a big green salad. I then moved on to the primi course of risotto and finished with a main of some beef that I’d characterize more like really tender roast beef. I should have taken a snap of the menu to be more exact than that but that’s the quick and dirty.

I’ve been fairly surprised by how few people seem to be in some of the places I’ve visited here in Piedmont. There’s no doubt that high season is later in the fall when the big truffle celebration goes on for weeks but I expected to see more people and have to deal with some waits. The weather hasn’t been great and I think that’s a factor. Anyway, it allowed me to have a completely private and personal tasting session at Borgogno in the heart of Barolo.

These wineries may have storied names, but they’re all new to me. But I’ll have to say I’ll be looking these up again. Here I tried a set of reds. From a simple Barbera D’Alba to the beefiest Barolos.

Not knowing much better, I let my tasting guide, Andrea, make some suggestions for me. He’s pictured in the upper right photo pouring one of the wines. The final 3 wines (on the left) were the most interesting wines to me. First, the “No Name”. He had to tell me some of the story there. Apparently it’s a ‘protest’ wine. It can’t be called “Barolo” because of some technicality in the Italian laws so they went out of their way with the name (or rather, no name) to make a point. I didn’t bother to get into the details of the local laws but suffice to say it apparently irritates some of the winemakers.

The No Name was decidedly lighter and fruiter in character than the other two true Barolos I tried. Of those two, my clear favorite was the 2009 Liste. Liste is the name of the vineyard. This one was 4 years on oak, one in bottle. By contrast the 2007 Riserva was said to have been aged 6 years on oak, one in bottle. The Liste seemed ready to drink now, while the other was quite a bit more tannic for my taste.

Really enjoyed the tasting here and Andrea was really helpful. Andrea also let me take the clear glass elevator up to the top terrace roof deck. Very nice birds eye view. I took some photos there of the countryside before heading on to snag lunch.

As you tramp around the small town of Barolo make a point of grabbing a bite to eat at La vite Turchese. More importantly, get some wine advice from Stefano. Trip Advisor led me there or I might have missed it. It’s not on the main walk you’re likely to take down to the regional enoteca and museum so it can be missed.

I pulled in a bit after noon and not really sure what I’d find but Stefano was immediately inviting and friendly. I pulled up a seat at the very small bar there and found the board showing today’s food options. They also have dozens of wines by the glass posted on another board.

I asked for suggestions and Stefano walked me through some choices. I decided on Roero Arneis. You can see Stefano pouring in the pic below. I also chose what they listed as a Panino “Fripancero” to eat. Googling that turned up nothing but it was essentially a sandwich with pancetta and a fried egg on it. It was very good.

I liked the place enough that I returned again on a 2nd day. The Nascetta Novello pictured in the upper right was from that visit. I’ve decided that’s my favorite white wine discovered here. Novello is a small town very near Barolo. The wine had a floral nose, the fuller body of a chardonnay (it seemed to me), and a crisp limeade taste. Wonder if I’ll be able to find this back home?

One final note: There was only one California wine on Stefano’s blackboard so I had to ask about it. It was the “Seven Oaks 2011 Cab”. He said: “I love it”. Googling that appears to come from J. Lohr. Of course I’m going to have to check that out now.




Marchesi di Grésy is a short drive from Alba out to very near Barbaresco. I’d been given tips in advance that it was worth visiting and I’d even had some of their wine before in Austin. Spent easily two hours getting the tour and personal tasting. Excellent!

Getting there from Alba took almost no time. Alba makes a great base from which to explore. Most towns, wineries and enotecha are not too far. But you do need a car. Thankfully I had a GPS though because, while close, it’s not always obvious what little road to turn down. They’re very easy to miss. That includes the little one to get down to Marchesi di Grésy.

The winery is at the base of the hills. Down a steep, winding, one-lane road. Was really hoping nobody else was coming up the hill – and that turned out to be the case. The hills around the winery form a kind of bowl. Look at the map behind Giulia’s head in the photo at the bottom here. You can kinda get a sense of the vineyards that encircle the winery in the center.

Our winery guide for the visit was Giulia and she was very knowledgable about the estate, the wines and the history of the place. You can see her in the photo below. We started outdoors where she pointed out various vineyards and generalities about the winery, vineyards, soils and Barbaresco wines. Then we moved inside. There were the cement tanks, the stainless tanks, the big barrels and the small barrels. We were also lucky enough to see some wine being bottled in this fantastic automated bottling contraption.

The highlight was of course the tasting of the wines themselves. We tasted 5 though I only snagged photos of 4. We started with a 2012 Langhe sauvignon blanc. Crisp, light, a little grassy, nicely structured with just enough acid. €12.50.

Side note: Giulia would use a technique known as “Avvinare” to prepare the glasses before tasting. It was a nice touch. Essentially she simply put a little of the wine to be tasted into the glass, swirled/rinsed the glass with it and dumped it out. Only then did she pour some for tasting.

Next wine up the 2013 Langhe Nebbiolo. This one was a particularly fresh and fruity red wine. It had been bottled only 1 month before. Strawberry, blueberry, rose petals. The Marinenga on the label refers to the vineyard the grapes came from.

I have no other notes on the 2009 Barbera D’asti, which was the next wine, other than it was €22.

Then came the Barbarescos. 1st of them was the 2009 Martinenga. This one was oaky with a note of tobacco and spices. Very nice. €39.

Finally, the 2008 Camp Gros. A wonderful balance of cherries and plums and just the right amount of tannins. Not cheap at €56. One of the very few bottles I actually bought on the trip. We’ll see if it makes it home.

As I headed to my stay in Sinio I had made arrangements to visit Ceretto winery. It was in the general direction and it was in fact one pointed out as worth a visit.

As it turned out, I was the only one there and once again treated to some very personal service. Kinda nice. There were lots of cars in the parking lot but apparently all were staff. I was told 90 people worked there. Definitely not a small operation.

In fact I’m pretty sure I recognize the big ‘B’ in the Blangé Langhe Arneis label I have pictured here. I think it’s a wine I can probably get at home. I’ve enjoyed the Arneis I’ve had while here and I’ll definitely look for it once I’m back home. I will say though my limited experience suggests I tend to prefer the Arneis from Roero just to the north a bit more. Maybe just something a little more balanced and smooth about it. Guess I’ll need to try more to confirm that. 😉 Ceretto is clearly pretty well known for their Arneis. They produce 600,000 bottles of it a year! €13.

Also at Ceretto I tried a 2012 Dolcetto. Light and fruity, from an entirely stainless steel production. Wasn’t much going on with this wine. €10.60.

The next two I liked a fair bit more. One was a 2011 Barbaresco. 2 years on oak, one in bottle. Floral on the nose, with a bit of rose petals. Dark red fruit on the taste. Not overly oaky. €26.

The other was a 2005 Barolo. This one was seriously a mouthful and would have been a lot better to try with meaty salami or something. Enjoyable but not so much on its own like the Barbaresco. €54.

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